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University extends S/NC deadline to May 1

Undergraduate students will have until last week of instruction to choose grade options

By
Senior Staff Writer
Saturday, April 4, 2020

In an email to undergraduate students Friday, Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01 announced that the deadline for changing grade options will be extended to May 1, the end of the last full week of classes. 

Students will have from April 13 until this deadline to decide whether they want to take a class for a letter grade or Satisfactory/No Credit. In an earlier email to the undergraduate student body March 24, Zia announced the reopening of the S/NC deadline from April 13 to April 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For decades, Brown’s academic policies have promoted individualized student learning through principles defined by choice and purpose, and we continue to believe that these are also the most flexible and supportive policies for this moment,” wrote Zia. 

The latest email also established that no student’s academic standing would be negatively impacted by coursework from the spring semester. Academic standing reflects the number of courses students are expected to pass each semester. According to the University website, this new policy will ensure that all students’ academic standing at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester will be “at or above their standing at the start of Spring 2020.” 

Jeffrey Hoffstein, professor and chair of the undergraduate mathematics department, is pleased with the extension of the S/NC deadline. Hoffstein believes that the policy can lower students’ stress levels. But many students see S/NC as a “horror,” he added. “They’re afraid that it reflects badly on their transcript,” he said.

Patrick Heller, professor and chair of the sociology department, also voiced his support for the extended deadline because it allows students to focus more on learning and less on grades. “Anything that allows students and faculty to have the flexibility to focus as much as possible on the actual learning and less on grading specifics is a good thing,” he said.

In response to concerns that students may be discouraged from taking courses S/NC because of competition for graduate school, Heller said that grades are not the only thing that matters on transcripts. “On any given course, I’m not sure (the grade) is going to be a big deal,” he said. 

In a March 30 email clarifying the updated grading policies to undergraduate students, Zia wrote that the College decided against a Universal Pass or mandatory S/NC system based in part on communications from students who had overcome challenges in prior semesters and wanted the opportunity to receive letter grades. For these students, “letter grades this semester — even if only in one class — could showcase (those students’) resilience in the face of adversity, and help them secure access to future opportunities.”

The Undergraduate Council of Students voted to endorse a Universal Pass grading system, according to an email sent to undergraduates March 27. Nina Wolff Landau ’20, an organizer of the student Universal Pass campaign, wrote in an email to The Herald on behalf of the campaign that “the extension is appreciated, but it continues to not be enough and does not address the central concerns of Universal Pass.” 

Wolff Landau wrote that by still allowing students to fail, the University’s policy is unfair to students who “will not have the luxury to devote all their time and energy to grades when they are fighting to survive.” 

Michael Chen ’22 believes that the extended grade option deadline will give more flexibility to students, unlike a “blanket policy” like Universal Pass which “takes away the education that someone deserves,” he said. 

But Wolff Landau and the Universal Pass campaign believe that a blanket policy is essential. “Anything less than a universal solution will exacerbate educational inequity and that is understood by the over 2,400 undergraduate students who have signed (the campaign’s) petition,” she wrote. Wolff Landau also noted that 41 professors signed the campaign’s petition.

Clarification: This story has been updated to add additional context to a quote from a March 30 email from Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01. 

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